Short poems + illustrations by Melissa Sweet? Even before cracking open my brand new library copy, I knew this was gold. Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems is an anthology by the prolific poet Paul B. Janeczko whose name I recognize from my long-ago days in a secondary education English course of study. The “very short poems” bit of the subtitle is important: the brevity of these little poems make them very accessible to children and perfect for Poetry Tea Time, which is something I prize. The poets whose works are anthologized in this generously-sized picture book include some commonly anthologized in American literature textbooks like Frost, Dickinson, and Sandburg, as well as poets known for their children’s poetry like Charlotte Zolotow and Eve Merriam. Also included are quite a few new-to-me poets. One thing I really like about this collection is that often even the well-known poets have lesser-known works in this book. For example, this little gem, “Dust of Snow” by Robert Frost, shines brightly in the “Winter” section of the book:
The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.
Melissa Sweet’s illustrations are classic–collagey, hand-drawn, colorful, and in a word (or two), super kid-friendly. It’s no secret ’round these parts how much I love her work. This is a book to pore over. As for how this one stacks up against the other Cybils poetry nominees, I have no idea. Stacks of new poetry books are not exactly easy to come by, but I’m seriously thinking of adding this one to our collection. Highly, Highly Recommended. (Candlewick, 2014)
What a busy month of reading aloud we’ve had! We’ve settled into a nice routine of reading aloud most weekdays at lunchtime, and then again from a different chapter book at bedtime. The lunchtime book is usually related to history (mostly from Sonlight Core D) and the bedtime book is one I’ve picked. I’ll be honest in stating that the lunchtime read-alouds haven’t been favorites of mine. I’m realizing how much I value freedom of choice in what we do in our homeschool. I don’t always like our history read-alouds. Well, that’s not true. I do think each one of them would make a perfectly fine okay book to read independently, but they’re not exactly ideal, at least to me, as read-alouds. The two books I have in mind as I compose this blog post are two of the ones we’ve finished since last month’s Read Aloud Thursday: Lawn Boy by Gary Paulsen and Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare.
I’m no stranger to Gary Paulsen’s stories, having at least read Hatchet in the nebulous past of my pre-blogging days. Lawn Boy is nothing like Hatchet, at least plot-wise. It’s the story of a boy who starts a lawn care business and by the end of the summer ends up very rich as a result of one of his customer’s investments on his behalf. It’s a story about economics–each chapter has as its title an economic term. The novel isn’t without its excitement, too, because he also manages to attract the attention of some thugs as well as a protective professional boxer. What I found difficult about reading this story aloud, aside from the fact that I read this one only once a week (and hence would often forget myself what exactly was happening in the story) is that it is chock-full of dialogue. This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, though I am noticing that stories that rely on dialogue and not much else tend to be more recent stories, and that’s probably one reason I’m not so crazy about them. My main problem with dialogue is that I don’t do voices, so I always think the storyline gets sort of muddled because of that. The Sign of the Beaver is a 1984 Newbery honor book, but again, it’s chock-full of dialogue. It’s not quite as dialogue dependent as Lawn Boy, but the kicker for it is that the Native American characters speak in that terrible, stilted, stereotypical way that we associated with bad Westerns. I’m usually not bothered much by stereotypes and being politically correct, but I found this one almost painful to read and actually found myself correcting the grammar of the Indians’ speeches. Also, in my opinion it’s not a very complex story, and I really appreciate a story with a little more nuance as a read-aloud. All of this actually surprises me because Elizabeth George Speare is a favorite author of mine from childhood–I loved The Witch of Blackbird Pond and read it multiple times, and then when I read The Bronze Bow as a young adult, she rose even higher in my estimation. It is interesting to note that both of those title won Newbery Medals in 1958 and 1961 respectively, while The Sign of the Beaver came about twenty-five years later. That makes me wonder if it’s just the “dumbing down” effect that we’ve seen over time. At any rate, I mostly wished that I had just handed both of those books to my girls to read alone and had picked up something else. We’ve now moved on to The Witch of Blackbird Pond as our lunchtime read, so we’ll see if my good opinion of it remains untarnished. For our bedtime story, we’ve come back around to the Little Britches series by Ralph Moody after finishing the Melendy Quartet with its last book, Spiderweb for Two. We were sad to see it end but so happy to have spent so much time with the Melendys this year. Highly Recommended!
As for picture books, well, I always think to myself, “Oh, this is a good one to share for RAT,” but then I run out of time before the books are due (usually after being rechecked at least once) at the library. A couple of books stand out in my mind from the past month that have been favorites of the DLM. The first one is Lightship by Brian Floca. Although it isn’t quite as detailed as his 2014 Caldecott Medal-winning Locomotive, it’s still not exactly a book I would expect a four year old to love. The DLM does love books about vehicles of almost any kind, and this one has the thing the DLM loves the most: a list! He loves lists of information. In this case it’s a list of people who work on a lightship, and the DLM loved to point at the worker’s picture and say his title. Whatever the reason he loved it, he did–enough to make it a nightly read-aloud for a couple of weeks. The other winning title for the toddler and preschool crowd here at the House of Hope is the newest Kate and Jim McMullan title, I’m Brave! I’ve written before (& here) how much we’ve enjoyed their books over the years, so when I saw this one in the new books bin in the library, I almost gave an audible gasp of delight! I knew it would be a winner, and it was is. I read it to the DLM’s class at co-op first before reading it to him. They’re a pretty hard crowd, and even they got caught up in it! It has not one but two pages of equipment listed to identify (oh, joy!), so it’s perfect for my detail and list-loving little fellow. We’ve read it at least a half dozen times since Saturday. It’s humorous and full of bravery, swagger, and onomatopoeia, so it’s just perfect for brash and blustery preschool crowd. I’m considering this one for a Christmas present for the DLM. Highly, Highly Recommended.
Other picture books I’ve reviewed since last month’s RAT are
I apologize for the length of this post. This should’ve been more than one post, but as always, time escaped me and I had to just cobble it all together. Thank you for reading and participating in RAT! It’s truly a monthly high point for me!
West of the Moon by Margi Preus–I’m a huge Preus fan, but this one isn’t my favorite of hers. Still, it’s a very well-written and compelling story, and one I’m interested to follow in the next few months of medal awarding.
Revolution by Deborah Wiles–This one is a documentary novel, which is a new phenomenon for me. I love it! I’d put this one into a category all its own, and its National Book Award finalist status obviously means a few other people agree with me.
Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli–I re-read this Newbery Medalist in order to be able to discuss it with Lulu. I didn’t review it, but I did share a lengthy excerpt from my favorite part of the story. This one fell a little in my estimation over the first time I read it back well over a decade ago, but I think it suffered by comparison to Revolution, which I was reading at the same time.
I also spent a good deal of time re-reading Jane Eyre, as well as listening to it via audiobook, for my bookclub, but I ultimately didn’t finish it. I had already read it at least twice, so I felt okay about it, though I felt like something of a failure since I’m the one who started the bookclub. Since we’ve started this super busy school year, I haven’t had a whole lot of extended quiet time that a book like that requires.
Of course, I also spend a lot of my time reading to my children. I’ll share what we’ve been reading together later this week for Read Aloud Thursday. Come back and share your own read aloud posts!
As for next month, I fully expect to spend most of my month reading lots of kids’ books for the Armchair Cybils challenge. I have four or five middle grade novels waiting for me now. By the way, it’s not too late to join in the Armchair Cybils challenge! You can read more about it here.
We’re Lois Ehlert fans here at the House of Hope. (Want proof? See here, here, and especially here. We have even made Lois Ehlert-inspired art!) When I saw her newest book, an autobiography of sorts entitled The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life, on the list of nominated titles for the 2014 Cybils in the category of elementary and middle grade nonfiction, I added to my book-request list at the library. I’m so glad I did! If I could choose one vocation that seems to me to be almost perfect, it is being a children’s book illustrator. I think it would be so much fun and so very rewarding to spend my life making art to inspire and educate children! (Too bad I have very little talent and no training, right? ) It follows, then, that I am absolutely taken in by artists’ stories. I long to see their studios and peek into their processes. This book gives its reader just that, along with a healthy dose of Ehlert’s enthusiasm and encouragement for young artists. The first spread of the book after the title page announces in large, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom letters:
(unless you love books and art)
And really, that just about sums it up. Ehlert includes photographs and hand-lettered captions which are interspersed with her trademark collage-style illustrations taken right from the pages of her own books to tell the story of her artistic life. It provides a great introduction to the collage medium as well as her own creative process. My favorite parts of the book are the photographs of the actual flowers she used as her models in her book Waiting for Wings and the copies of the leaves (which she collected and others gave her) that she used in making Leaf Man. We see her sketches which eventually became her books. I love that! This whole book–from cover to cover–are a celebration of Ehlert’s passion for art. The endpapers are even collages of pictures of her own folk art collection. This is a not-to-be-missed title for both Lois Ehlert fans and budding artists. I think Ehlert herself, through this book, is encouraging wanna-be artists (like me!) to Just Do It. Highly Recommended. (Beach Lane Books, 2014)
I’m got up super early this morning (at least for me on a Saturday!) thanks to a lengthy nap I took yesterday after a medical test I had done. (The test came back all good. Thank you, Lord!)
My night wasn’t exactly restful because, well, we have a new baby in the house yard:
Her name is November, and she is Louise’s ninth (get it? November!) birthday present for her birthday which is coming up in. . . you guess it. . . November. This girl has wanted a dog for a long, long time, and so we, her non-dog-adoring parents, have finally given in. We haven’t had a dog since before Lulu was born, so this is a big step for us! The baby cried a lot last night, but the girls are up early with her this morning and are already outside playing with her. I’m not sure how much our neighbors have appreciated the crying baby or the early bird (& excited!) girls, but I’m sure November is glad of their company. Isn’t she a cutie?
We celebrated my older nephew’s sixteenth birthday on Monday night with family. I cannot believe our little red-headed baby, the first grandbaby in the family on both sides!, is now a big 6 foot (plus!) tall, red-headed sixteen year old. The years are flying.
In other news, Steady Eddie traveled yet again this week. I’m sort of getting used to it. Well, kind of. I don’t love it, but I survive it. And that’s the truth.
Due to Steady Eddie’s travel and my impending medical test (which required the kids to spend the night at my parents’ house on Thursday night), this week felt sort of off.
Fun Friday consisted of the kids being at my parents’ house, which means way more television and kitchen liberties than they’re accustomed to, so it was indeed a Fun Friday for them.
Me. . . not so much, but again, I survived it. It was almost restful, actually, to be “put under” for a while and then come home and nap. Oh, and to have lunch (albeit a groggy one!) out with Steady Eddie. (Did I just say all that?)
School is perking right along. Highlights this week include Louise finishing her third grade Rod and Staff spelling book and Lulu making a connection between what she learned in her Rod and Staff grammar book and one of her 4-level analysis sentences. She recognized an appositive with no prompting from me. These little intellectual epiphanies are so gratifying! Louise also acquitted herself very well on her first Review and Practice sheet for RS Math level D–she answered all the questions and worked all the problems correctly the first time! For Lulu this week consisted of learning, among other things, about the Sieve of Eratosthenes. Neat stuff!
We finished Sign of the Beaver as our lunchtime read-aloud and plunged right into The Witch of Blackbird Pond. I hope to share my thoughts on Sign of the Beaver soon!
The DLM continues to beg for school time. This week we learned the letter sounds for A and H and read appropriate titles.
I figured out this week (or last?) that Benny also knows the sound for A! He was standing up on the love seat (a.k.a. “love couch,” according to the DLM) and pointing to a little sign hanging above it. I realized he was pointing to the A on the sign and saying “aaah.” I think we have Leap Frog, in all its electronic wonder, to thank for that.
I’m working my way through my stack of Cybils nominees. Fun times!
The girls have a piano event this morning–hymn fest. They will play a couple of hymns apiece in front of judges.
Besides that, I have nothing but school planning and church on the calendar for the weekend. I’d like to take a little road trip, but I think that’s not going to happen any time in the near future.